Charlie Neely spent 23 years in active military service to the country. Now he is serving Cleveland County veterans as the Veteran Coordinator, a unique position in Oklahoma implemented in January 2017 when county commissioners hired Mark Braley.
Braley has moved into another position at the county, but says veterans will be in good hands with Neely.
“He was my commanding officer in Afghanistan,” Braley said. “I believe he will be a good fit for the job.”
The veteran coordinator program was the brainchild of Cleveland County Commissioner Darry Stacy who was inspired to bring it to Cleveland County after learning of similar programs in other states.
“I was at a conference and went to a seminar on county-level veterans’ programs,” Stacy said. “When I saw the great work other counties were doing to take care of their veterans I knew this was something I wanted to implement here.”
County Commissioners Rod Cleveland and Harold Haralson agreed. The program is unique in Oklahoma and is set up in partnership with the Cleveland County Health Department.
Neely started with the county on April 12 and has already felt the value of impacting lives in a positive way.
“I had a lady who needed help with an application with the veterans’ homes throughout the state,” he said. “She was trying to get her father into one of those homes.”
Stressful situations like finding a safe spot for your aging parent can be even more challenging if you also aren’t sure how to navigate veterans’ services. Neely helped the woman fill out the application and understand the process.
Neely believes his previous military and leadership experience allows him to bring empathy and an understanding of the governmental processes to the job.
“Two cases I’ve worked already were especially poignant,” he said. “I had a lady whose father had just passed away. The daughter was 70, her mother was 90, and they didn’t know how to get these benefits.”
Neely helped them with the application for the gravestone and to claim the $300 burial benefit.
“They couldn’t make it to my office because of their ages, but I took the paperwork to them and sat down at their kitchen table and helped them do it,” he said. “They were grateful because they had no idea how to navigate the system.”
For Neely, it was important this World War II veteran be buried with the honor he deserved and for his family members to know his service was, and is, appreciated by our nation.
Another ongoing case involves helping a Vietnam veteran suffering from a mysterious illness that may be connected to Agent Orange. The man had put off reaching out for help until his daughter showed signs she had genetically inherited the disease.
“It may not happen soon enough to benefit him, but if he can get it annotated and documented, it could help his family if it’s shown to be connected to Agent Orange,” Neely said. “He suffered all those years in silence, but now that his daughter’s possibly being affected, it’s of concern.”
The county veteran coordinator provides a one-stop shop for veterans who don’t know how to navigate the system.
“Being a veteran, I think I can help veterans navigate their way to the programs that can best benefit them,” he said. “As an officer in the Army, at the end of the day, you want to make sure your soldiers are taken care of. Just because these people are out of the service now, doesn’t mean they don’t still need our help and care.”
While Neely doesn’t provide direct services, he helps veterans find and apply for the services available through the Veterans Administration and other organizations. He also works in coordination with local veterans’ corner organizations which have certified veterans service officers.
“Our roles are complementary,” he said.
Neely can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, but he said many reach out to him via phone at 405-366-3405 or 405-593-5365.
“I think many veterans don’t know what is available to them,” Neely said. “In the month I’ve been on the job, the vets I’ve assisted are, for the most part, not familiar with technology. In today’s world, the VA and other government programs have gone totally online. The older generation is not comfortable with that.”
Neely’s decorations include the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal (7), Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal (2 stars), Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Army Overseas Service Medal, Army Reserve Component Overseas Training Ribbon, Army Meritorious Unit Commendation and Combat Action Badge.
He holds an Associate of Applied Science in Police Science from Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City and a Bachelor of Science in Education from University of Central Oklahoma. He is currently scheduled to graduate from the prestigious US Army War College with a Masters of Strategic Studies degree in late July of this year.